DIIV can’t escape context. Not least when questions remain unanswered, despite second album ‘Is The Is Are’’s finest efforts to provide an antidote to controversy. In this month’s magazine, Zachary Cole Smith goes in depth about his bandmates, drugs, relationships, his arrest. His life has transformed since the release of debut ‘Oshin’. Everything is under the spotlight. This record documents decline, hope and everything in between, fever and adrenaline defining its every move. Tough reality remains, but ‘Is The Is Are’ is something of a miracle-worker in its ability to divert attention from Cole’s struggles.
The album pendulum swings between two extremes. It plummets into darkness on ‘Mire (Grant’s Song)’ - which bares all with eye-gouging screams and grimy feedback - and a galloping title-track, laced with Cole’s most upfront lyrics: “Last time I walked down this street, I wanted to die.”
But ‘Is The Is Are’ has another, equally encapturing side. “My life wasn’t all drugs and addiction, rehab/ relapse, and sickness. I also met and fell in love with someone,” Cole wrote on his unflinchingly honest Tumblr page last year. Clashing heads with darkness is a sweet, loved-up side, the likes of which has no bounds. ‘Under the Sun’ races ahead with heart emojis for eyes, while ‘Valentine’ flips the idea of addiction of its head into a severe, spiralling romance. Sky Ferreira guests on the repetitive thud of ‘Blue Buredom’. It’s not one of the album’s finest moments, but it has its place. Everything is laid bare on ‘Is the Is Are’, hence the length, scope and energy that abounds. Even the blink-and-you-missed-it interludes, the hilariously titled ‘(Fuck)’ and ‘(Napa)’, sit pretty in an epic landscape.
What’s most impressive is in how Cole’s story peaks towards the end. Instead of dragging you down or being overbearing, ‘Is The Is Are’’s tale finds stark truths when it closes. ‘Healthy Moon’ is as deft and precise as DIIV have ever sounded, while ‘Dust’ is a maddening penultimate cut. The latter climbs up the walls, dicing with death in a chaotic chasm.
The staples of the debut remain. In fact, it’s hard to tell the two records apart at first. But on ‘Is The Is Are’, everything carries more meaning, whether that’s down to context or the fact that Cole is simply a better, more vital songwriter. He’s well and truly made his point here.